Stop Kaitlyn Clark? good luck. Coaches share their (often failed) strategies.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Here are some universal truths about college basketball: The game will start and eventually end. Snapshots will be captured. One team will win. He will lose another. Do you want another one? It's impossible to completely stop Iowa State's Kaitlin Clark.

The coach, who has played Clark multiple times throughout her career, defined the following definition of success against Iowa State's star guard. Even if you score 35 points, record five assists, and make five free throws, the coach considers that a positive thing. “You're in the game,” the coach said. “I'm not saying it's right or wrong. We were smart enough to know we weren't going to stop her from scoring.

The conundrum of Kaitlyn Clark's suspension is a reality that coaches across the country have faced for nearly four seasons. Clarke's career average of 28.4 points per game on 20 shot attempts reflects her continued dominance. This season, she averaged national bests with 31.8 points and 8.8 assists per game, matching her career-high with 49 points on the night she set the NCAA Division I women's all-time scoring record.

There is no single approach to stopping the player that the vast majority of coaches consider to be their toughest game plan. But different methods have emerged to slow down Clark's performance among coaches.

The athlete I spoke to four head coaches, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about their strategies for trying to stop Clarke this season. Their plans have often been dashed, but Colorado — Iowa's Sweet 16 opponent — may try some of those tactics.

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A preliminary selection must be made. “You have to pick your poison,” one coach said. Does she smother the all-time leading scorer in women's college basketball and allow her teammates opportunities? This did not work in Pennsylvania. Iowa forward Hannah Stulke scored 47 points for the Nittany Lions. Or does she limit her teammates and know Clarke will get it? “Honestly, I think you have to find a way to keep Kate Martin under the covers,” another coach said. “I think Caitlyn will get what she gets.”

Whatever strategy coaches devise, it often turns out to be ineffective. It seems that there is no look that opponents have not tried.

Opponents kicked out 2-3 and box-1 zone combinations. (Nebraska had the most success doing the latter, holding Clark scoreless in the fourth quarter of a Feb. 11 upset of the Hawkeyes.) Others, like West Virginia on Monday night, applied pressure from its entire court. (She had six turnovers, but still finished with 32 points, 12 free throw attempts and eight rebounds.) Clark has seen double and triple teams. It's been shaded left and right.

“We forced her to leave,” one coach said. “A lot of people don't like forcing her left because she hits the ball so well over the side sill to her left, but for me, that's what you give up, and if you have enough pressure, it's a really difficult shot. I understand that people go in a way different with her.

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Another said: “You have to be ready to adjust if you make the wrong choice that night. I think it's better to have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, and it's better to have a contingency plan afterward.”

One of the main topics the coaches addressed was: making Clarke work in everything. “Don't do anything silly and give her the easy stuff,” one coach said. Another added: “You need to get rid of her easy points.” That means defending without fouling (Clark averages seven free throw attempts per game) and limiting her opportunities at the rim, where she shoots 66.3 percent. Don't let her throw a 70-foot baseball pass to a teammate for an easy layup, either.

Putting defensive pressure on Clark is another recommendation. “Expose Kaitlyn on defense or make her have to work a little harder,” another coach said.

“We tried to make her guard a lot,” one coach said. “We ran every play we could. Do something other than let her stand there and let her attack.

The problem for the few remaining college opponents Clark will face is that nothing will ever fully work out. “If you go into it like you're going to shut it down, you're out of your mind. You're wasting your time,” the first coach said. “If you think you're going to go into the game and you're going to come up with a game plan that no one has ever done before, you're thinking too much about yourself.”

Colorado may have a familiarity advantage over other tournament opponents. The Buffaloes and Hawkeyes met in the Sweet 16 last season, a game Colorado led by a point at halftime before Clark and the Hawkeyes played a convincing final 20 minutes to clinch an 87-77 victory.

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But Colorado knows there's another factor at play in addition to Clark's skills. The crowd will definitely be pro-Iowa in Albany.

“We definitely expect that type of crowd,” Buffaloes coach J.R. Payne said Friday. “I felt it in Seattle last year, and that was on the other side of the country.”

Direct experience with Clark's mania can be helpful. Knowing how Clark handles the basketball, the height of his jumpers, and what it's like in the yard sale when you hit a logo 3-pointer can be valuable as well. One coach stressed to players not to worry about crowd noise after Clark's jumper or stepping up after the Logo 3. This season, Clark has hit more 3-pointers from 25 to 30 feet than 3s from 25 feet away, according to CBB Analytics.

“When everyone panics, so what?” The coach said. “It's only 3. It's coming. Don't panic.”

The athleteNicole Auerbach and Sabrina Merchant contributed to this report.

(Photo: Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

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